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Picture: 123RF/DIMITRI SHIRONOSOV
Picture: 123RF/DIMITRI SHIRONOSOV

Twenty-five years ago, golf experienced booming levels of participation in the US after Tiger Woods’ 1996 PGA debut. As his electrifying performances continued, the “Tiger effect” quickly rolled out across the globe and here in SA, youngsters flocked to golf courses to take up the game.

In 1999, a year before Woods’ simultaneous ownership of all four major championships, SA business-person and major golf patron Johann Rupert recognised there was a need to take the game to previously disadvantaged communities, and he founded the SA Golf Development Board (SAGDB).

His vision was to create a programme that could grow the sport, to develop golf skills into tangible benefits for graduates. It was a long-term goal that would take time, money and resources to eventually produce champion golfers, and in the past 23 years, more than 35,000 children have come through the SAGDB programme.

While there have been reports of a few individual success stories, it was only when I noticed that 31 members of the SAGDB were competing in two of the GolfRSA Inter-Provincial events in 2021 that I began to study the successes of the programme more intently, and while they may not yet have produced a world-beater like Woods, I was blown away at what I uncovered.

Close to 280 programme members have earned provincial colours at Open Amateur and Junior level on merit, including the 10 learners who competed in the SA IPT (three in the A-Section and seven in the B-Section), and 21 competed in the SA U-19 IPT (nine in the A-Section and 12 in the B-Section).

So far this year, the SAGD B fielded seven learners in the teams from Boland, Border, Eastern Province, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga in the SA Country Districts, while Hilmi Mallick from Western Province and Ekurhuleni’s Sean Tsipa also competed in the 2022 Challenge IPT. Incidentally, three SAGDB coaches also competed in the SA Country Districts, namely Ben Jonas (Border), Andries Kori (Northern Cape) and Johnny Ludick (Eastern Province).

In the past seven years, nine SAGDB learners have been inducted in the GolfRSA National Squad programme. Three are in the 2022 squad, namely Cole Stevens, Kieron van Wyk and 16-year-old Vuyisani Makama, while four are competing in the pro ranks and another 17 SAGDB graduates were recently named to the Sunshine Tour’s 2022 Transformation Class.

Stevens and Van Wyk both represented SA on the international stage. Stevens competed in the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina, where he finished a credible 21st.

Van Wyk and fellow squad member Christo Lamprecht teed it up in the prestigious Spirit International in 2021, where they took fifth place in the men’s competition against 23 pairs of the best amateur golfers in the world.

And what about Zethu Myeki, who rose to No 2 in the rankings and became the first black female South African to earn national colours? She represented SA seven times internationally before she joined the pro ranks in 2020.

Just last month Stevens, currently enrolled at Point University, closed out his 2021/2022 season as No 4-ranked golfer in the National Intercollege Athletics (NAIA) in the US, earning him a nomination for the 2022 NAIA Jack Niklaus National Player of the Year award.

Van Wyk recently finished his first year at the College of Charleston University. In May, he was named Colonial Athletic Association Freshman of the Year after becoming the first black golfer to win the CAA Championship. The CMR golfer played a pivotal role in getting the Cougars to the 2022 NCAA Championships for the first time since 2001, where he was their top performer in the 72-hole qualifying tournament.

Some members of SAGDB National Squad have enjoyed outstanding results on the GolfRSA junior circuit in 2022. Among the highlights was a sixth-place finish for Timothy Daniels in the limited field Nedbank Junior Challenge, while Lyle Pedro tied for eighth and Makama finished joint 16th at Sun City.

Daniels also placed third in the Global Junior Tour’s Nomads Junior International, while Letseso Letsai and Makama both qualified for the Match Play stage in the SA Amateur Championship. Johndre Ludick was fourth in the Nomads SA U-15 Championship, Tristan Galant was sixth in the Nomads Gowrie Farm U-15 and Astin Wade Arthur third in the Pawpa Sewgolum Cup.

The SAGDB not only strives to produce champions, but to give these children life skills to develop into positive role models in their communities through the discipline and values they learn through the game, and to empower them to become economically independent through these skills.

At least 30 graduates are working in the industry — some as trainee greenkeepers, others doing the PGA of SA diploma and still more coaching at various clubs and programmes — while a large number are enrolled at colleges and universities in SA and abroad.

Two of the early inductees — Hayden Garcia and Alkin Barkley — graduated from Virginia Union University this May. Garcia was the Class Salutorian, having finished second highest academically in graduating class, while Barkley — the recipient of the prestigious Lowe Award for academic, sport and community service in 2021 — also graduated with distinction.

SAGDB learners enrolled in the programme are winning club championships, representing their clubs and golf unions in league competitions and starting to make a real impact in greater numbers on the national circuit.

In 2021, former member and GolfRSA national squad player Franklin Manchest’s Big Easy Tour breakthrough had a hugely positive effect on the learners in the programme. Success breeds success and I wouldn’t be surprised that when the first Sunshine Tour champion is crowned, a surge of champions will come through the ranks, all the way down to grassroots level.

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